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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Tag: Emerging Church

Conversation on the Church 2


Many of my friends, though, fall into one of four camps: 1. Theologically and culturally conservative 2. Theologically conservative but culturally liberal 3. Theologically liberal but culturally conservative 4. Theologically and culturally liberal

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How Deconstruction Saved My Faith 3


McLaren, in the interview I mentioned earlier, talks about how this deconstruction works.   I mentioned that the emerging church is a kind of "back to the Bible movement," even though many see it as unorthodox.  It may be, in some ways, but that might not be bad.  Reforming - including Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and many contemporaries - is about going back to the Bible, deconstructing how culture has influenced us, and "reforming" to the word of God - which is the norming norm (to use Grenz/ Franke language).  Here is one way that McLaren says it:

...mentioning different lists of names isn't that important, but what's really important is that this stuff has been simmering in the biblical text itself, and we've been very well trained not to see it.  We've been trained to look for certain things and not for others... "What you focus on determines what you miss."

Deconstructing your faith is not about losing your faith - or at least it doesn't have to be.  It's about discovering where the things we believe come from and how we ascertained them.  It's about discovering what "eyes" or through which "glasses" we see the world, the bible, and ourselves.  Then, it's about trying to figure out what God is really saying both contextually and extra-contextually.  That's just normal exegesis - discovering what is enculturated and what's not, and how God incarnates himself in our own culture, in these times.  When we admit and understand our cultural, theological, and personal biases, we can compare those to the biases of others, and we can try to understand what God speaks outside of those, as well as to them.  Then, we begin to reconstruct our faith - keeping some of our biases, and shedding others.

Although he doesn't get into the technical side of this (and I would nuance this much more), I like how Olson says it in "How to be Evangelical without being Conservative":

For me Scripture (including Jesus Christ as the interpretive center) trumps tradition, reason, and experience.  To be more precise about how I do theology, I recognize Scripture and tradition as the two sources and norms of theology (with Scripture primary adn the Great Tradition of Christian belief secondary) and reason and experience as interpretive tools to help us sort out and understand Scripture and tradition. [p. 145]

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The Future of Evangelicalism


I've been thinking a lot for several years about the future of evangelicalism.  A number of writers over the past decade have written about both the past, the meaning of, and the future of evangelicalism.  There's no consensus. I guess I find this particularly interesting because I've always kind of wondered where I fit in the whole scheme of things.  I haven't written in a while on this blog, and part of the reason is that I've been on a journey of rediscovery for the past 4 months.  I've been returning to some roots of mine both theological, culturally, and in my own personal narrative.  It's been a fascinating ride, really.  I've had more clarity about what I believe, where I fit, how I'm evangelical, (how some people would say I'm not and why), why I'm drawn to the emerging church, why I'm drawn to the missional church, why I'm interested in the new monasticism, why I never feel comfortable with either a conservative evangelical or a liberal Christian label.  I've made peace with myself about why deconstruction is important to me and how it fits my reformed theological roots, and a lot more.

Anyway, all of this works together in me to in my concern over the future of the evangelical church.  Where are we headed?  Who is we?  Who decides who "we" is?  In the past, it seemed that our "pop" evangelicalism was lead by our pastor - JI Packer, our theologian - John Stott, and our evangelist - Billy Graham.  But with these leaders all aging and approaching the end of their earthly days, I wonder who will lead us, and whether we'll stay together.  There are certainly people vying for power over the label.  There's a resurgence of deeply conservative fundamentalism, a rise in global evangelical fruit, an upsurge of new reformed calvinists (or neo-calvinists), a hugely "successful" non-denominational mega-church movement with powerfully influential leaders, an emerging church alternative, and an increase in Pentecostal churches and much more.  So... what is the way forward for evangelicals?

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There are important clarifications to make when talking about emerg-anything because so much stuff is flying out there because no one knows who is talking about what.  In Lining Up I lamented that there are some who like to categorize everyone in order to decided whose heretical and whose orthodox.  Though I still don't think that's a great idea, it is helpful to have some definitions and categories in order to have a helpful conversation so that we're not talking past each other or attacking people for things that simply aren't true.  So, here are a couple of helpful things: Emerging Church is not the same thing as Emergent Church which is not the same as Emergence Theory.

The Emerging Church is something that general means the character of the church that is emerging in the new postmodern era/ culture as our culture and history makes a move from modernism through postmodernity to whatever will be next.  The idea here is that as the culture and humanities ways of viewing and experiencing the world change, so the church will also go through some changes.  (For instance, the church made changes through the Roman Period, through Medieval Times, through the Renaissance, through scientific modernism, etc.)  We are now in the stages of that emerging and we won't know until we are on the other side what that will mean or look like.

The Emergent Church refers to a particular strain of dialogue and a group of leaders that was originally birthed out of some connections of the Leadership Network in the mid to late 1990's (most known are Tony Jones, Brian McLaren, Chris Seay, Doug Paggitt, Spencer Burke, Dan Kimball, and Andrew Jones).  You can often hear Mark Driscoll making it clear that he is no longer a part of this groupl, even though he was there in the beginning (more on Mark to come in later posts).

Emergence theory is a particular strain of theories that has a wide span and has been appropriated to the way the brain works, how ant colonies functions, how cities are designed, how people move in crowds, how software is designed, and much more.  Emergence theory is a kind of complex systems theory that, in the most crass way I can put it, posits that order emerges complexly from what looks like chaos - that complex systems are self-ordering in a kind of evolutionary manner from the "bottom up" rather than by design from the "top down."

Now, this isn't to say that the Emergent Church folks aren't applying Emergence Theory to understand the Emerging Church.  (That would actually be a true statement for some.  For instance, though I'm sure where Kester Brewin, author of "Signs of Emergence" fits, he is definitely applying Emergence Theory to how the church should function in the future.  I'll write about his book soon... one chapter to go, but for the record, I disagree with a lot of it.

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Entering the Fray


Ok, so I haven't talked a lot about the emerging church, or the Emergent Church a whole lot over the years.  It finally feels like time for me to engage at a higher level.  I've been moving around in the emerging church world and postmodernity for a long time - thinking, reading, praying, writing - but haven't really stepped out and engaged with others on a very high level.  For whatever reason, it feels like time to do that.  Maybe I feel a little more comfortable in my own skin and now that I'm 35, feeling like some of things I'm thinking bear sharing, conversing about, or engaging with.  So, just for autobiographical reasons, let me share a couple of things about my history:

  • I grew up in a strong evangelical Christian sub-culture and knew a lot about Jesus, but didn't know him.
  • Starting in 1990 I began my journey into philosophy which lead to a pretty deep entry into postmodern philosophy. Much of my intellectual formation from 1990-1994 came through interactions with the following people: Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Pascal, Lyotard, Vattimo, Habbermas, Heideger, Derrida, Fish, Rawls, Marx, Engels, Foucault, Rorty, among others.  Deconstruction was a huge part of my personal journey, and was also helpful in understanding Scripture and Jesus more clearly.  It was in the middle of this journey through postmodern philosophy that I actually met Jesus.   

Now, that might sound strange to some of you because so many Christians tend to lament the rise of postmodernity and see it as a dangerous threat to Christianity.  Well, it can be, and whether that's a good thing or not depends on how it's a threat.  Deconstructing the things that have been added to what God intended can be a very good thing.  Deconstructing what is biblical and true about God and about humanity can be a terrible thing.  (more on this in later posts).  Anyway, I think since that time, I have understood the Bible, my relationship to God through Jesus Christ by his Holy Spirit, my understanding of the narrative of history, my understanding of what God has done, is doing, and will do, my understanding of the place of individual Christians and the church in culture, my understanding of the development of theology, my frustrations with systematic theology (particular the merging of secular philosophy with biblical theology to create something extra-biblical), my understanding of issues of justice, restoration, the marginalized, incarnation, and much more.

From 1994 to 2005 I was involved in college ministry, starting several new ministries to college students and then pastoring a church that could probably be described in some ways as borderline emergent.  I always described it as reaching out to the de-churched and trying to be a church that took God and the Scriptures seriously while, as our slogan said, "Ask questions worth answering; seek answers worth believing."  We loved dialogue, struggle, and the communal aspects of the faith journey.  We had people who were part of the community from far left, far right, and somewhere in the middle socially and  theologically  Recently I've been serving in a leadership position in a larger, more conservative small mega-church that is fairly mainline as far as larger community churches go. 

I've always felt intimately tied to evangelicalism, and yet have always felt like an outsider as well.  I was raised in a church plant in the reformed tradition with a former missionar as a pastor.  I've never really been purely a reformed calvinist, either, although I have many calvinist tendencies and beliefs and did attend Calvin Seminary for goodness' sake.

Anyway, all that to say that I'll be trying in upcoming posts to engage some of the issues at a higher level, like the strains in the emerging church (Emergent Church, Emergence Theory, emerging church and the differences), the positive sides of deconstructionism informed by Christian faith, how Kierkegaard and Christian existentialism fits into my own journey, and more.  I'd like to actually talk a bit about what McLaren talks about in his book Everything Must Change, which I promised awhile back, but haven't gotten to, along with multiple other books I've read lately.  Then, if all goes well, I can get into a couple of people who are "on the scene" and some of the issues at hand.

Anyway, we'll see if I have time.

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